The Page Turner. Geoff Bushell, Les Brindley, Simon Pringle, unknown, Graham Tait, Gordon Thompson (front).
The Page Turner. Geoff Bushell, Les Brindley, Simon Pringle, unknown, Graham Tait, Gordon Thompson (front).

IN his final monthly feature on Morpeth Lions Club, member CHRIS OFFORD focuses on the group’s charity work.

It is nearly a year ago when I started this monthly column in the Herald. You may recall the Herald offered us the opportunity to highlight the work of Morpeth Lions in its ruby anniversary year. When given the task I did wonder how I would come up with something each month, but with a bit of planning and lots of help from my fellow Lions I find myself with just this article to write. For this final article I will give some details and a few stories about our charity work.

Charitable works are one of the primary reasons for the Lions’ existence. It is the main reason I joined and I am sure this is the case with most, if not all, of my fellow Morpeth Lions. Part of one of the Lions International purposes states we are ‘to encourage service minded people to serve their community without financial reward.’ Our Code of Ethics says we should give sympathy to those in distress, aid to the weak and substance to the needy. As our logo used to say ‘We serve’, but importantly, we can often have fun serving.

In view of the significant demands placed upon our resources, both financial and manpower, we do have a Social Services Group. This has been chaired for some years now by Geoff Bushell, our current Vice President. The Committee will gather the numerous requests for assistance and meet every couple of months to decide what action to recommend to the full meeting of Lions. This is not always as straightforward as it seems and often Geoff has to follow up cases in a lot more detail to determine whether it is appropriate to fund or give other assistance to the request.

We do get quite a few requests requiring urgent action. The most numerous of these come through the county council’s Children’s Support Unit. The key person in the club for this type of request is Robin Cooper. Robin and a small team are on hand to meet urgent demands at a moment’s notice, including over Christmas, one of our peak times for this type of work.

Two years ago we did an analysis of donations or support given over the past 10 or so years and came up with more than 70 organisations, plus a number of individuals, particularly in the aftermath of the Morpeth Floods. The list is wide-ranging, from international activities such as Water Aid and Eye Camps, national organisations such as Marie Curie and Macmillan Cancer Care, and regional requests such as the Great North Air Ambulance and the Freeman Hospital.

However, we do focus much of our support locally, with an emphasis on youth and the elderly. I would need another year’s worth of monthly columns in the Herald to detail all these projects so have chosen a small number to give a flavour of our work. My apologies if you think I have missed out better examples.

Two international donations and assistance which we follow up on a regular basis are for a school in the Philippines and help to children suffering as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear power station disaster.

One of our Lions, Peter Wallum, has spent much of his time working abroad including in the Philippines. Through his wife, Jenny, we have given regular support to AETA School, near Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines. The school was originally opened in June 2002 on the tenth anniversary of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, which was the greatest eruption of the 20th century and totally destroyed the Aeta homeland.

The school, named the Morpeth Kinaragen Aeta School, Limay, Bataan is thriving. It has seven teachers with 90 pupils. The EVA Charity Foundation helped the AETAs build a new foundation for their communities. Morpeth Lions were active in this cause and have since supported the school’s progress with donations.

The Lions have been supporters of Morpeth and Wansbeck Link of Chernobyl Children’s Life Line since its inception in 2008. Life Line gives children whose health is seriously affected by Chernobyl a chance to come to England to be clear of radiation and help extend their lifespan.

It started with a modest request for shoes for two young boys visiting from Belarus. The Lions decided to buy shoes for all the ten children in the party. However, when Les Sage went to arrange discount in John Lewis, the shop donated the shoes. We thought that instead we would get them some warm clothing, but once again Marks and Spencer donated these. We did help them shop and some Lions and partners have hosted the children in their visits.

Financially we were able to help by sponsoring the travel for three youngsters. Lion David Chambers and his wife Maureen have hosted a garden party for the children with activities such as a bouncy castle and Lion Mike Nicholson arranges a Sunday lunch.

The Lions are now fully involved with the Link. Lion Jerry Nelson is now Link Treasurer, his wife Lilian is the Chairman, with Lion David Wheeler the Deputy Chairman. Also on the Committee is ex-Lion Alan Taylor.

We are very much looking forward to the children’s visits in future years.

We like to help individuals living locally and below are some examples of where Lions’ activities and funding can make a very personal difference.

For several years we used to drive for the Disabled Club. This involved one driver and an ‘assistant’. You had to have a fair degree of do-it-yourself skills as well, especially as the lift at the rear of the vehicles to lower the wheelchairs was prone to play up and get stuck in either the up or down position. It all added to the challenge. However, after years of doing this the Government introduced legislation requiring us to take examinations to qualify for something we had been doing for years. I think only Richard Nash took the examinations and he now drives regularly for Morpeth Area Partially Sighted Club. This was recognised recently with a Morpeth Civic Award.

Another adventurous time involving a vehicle was when we acquired a mobility vehicle called a Vessa Trekka. Louis Johnson, auctioneers, alerted us to the fact they had one. We bought it for use by individuals in the community and lent it out to individuals. Do-it-yourself skills were often needed with minor bits of servicing needed over the years and several battery replacements. Its last recipient was a lady in Ponteland where we had to alter her gate and provide a shed where it could be stored safely.

In the end it just got too old and newer and more manoeuvrable models were available. It caused something of a problem when we wanted to dispose it. Eddy Gebhard and a couple of other Lions took it in Eddy’s horsebox to the council amenity site in Whorral Bank.

Unfortunately, the horsebox was treated as a commercial vehicle and not allowed on site. This resulted in the Lions taking it apart outside the site and then driving the various parts into the site in Eddy’s car for disposal. Oh the joys of red tape.

In September 2006 the Lions received a call via an Occupational Therapist from the Northumberland Care Trust regarding a gentleman living in Ellington. Gordon

Thompson was a paraplegic who had suffered serious spinal injuries following a fall whilst mountaineering some years previously. He had no functional movement other than head movement and operated his wheelchair via a chin switch. Gordon was a keen reader and had a large library of books at home. However, because of his condition, he was unable to hold books or papers and was unable to turn the pages.

Lions were advised that there was a page-turning device on the market which could be operated by a simple switch, however because of the relatively large cost of this device, the NHS was unable to fund the cost and Lions were asked whether they could help.

We viewed this as a cause worthy of support and because of the relatively high cost, called upon other Lions Clubs in the region to also give their support, which indeed they did. In October the page turner was delivered and put to work at Gordon’s home. He was delighted that at long last, he was able to read again unaided.

In 2008 Geoff Bushell had a call for help from a lady in Cramlington. She had an extremely physically disabled daughter, Melanie, who because of her particular problem with her joints could only lie face down on a bed at all times and was transported to and from school on a motorised stretcher and specially adapted transport.

Although she had missed quite a lot of school, Melanie was exceptionally bright and had gained a number of As and A*s in her GCSEs. Her aim was to go to university, but to further her studies she desperately needed a high quality laptop computer with voice recognition software.

The Education Department was unable to fund this item and the lady in question appealed to Morpeth Lions. The Lions were very impressed with Melanie’s academic progress, despite really difficult personal circumstances and, shortly afterwards, funds were raised and the laptop was presented to her at her home.

We are pleased to say that Melanie is fulfilling her ambition and is currently at Newcastle University studying biology, which is indeed great news.

Well, this is the last of the monthly articles. I hope you have enjoyed reading about the Lions and their work. We are always looking for new members or just helpers. Our Membership Officer is Ian Mills, who can be contacted on 01670 517510, or Richard Nash on 01670 504670.

l The January article on Morpeth Lions featured details of four past Presidents who had made an outstanding contribution to Lionism and to the wider community. It is with much regret that information regarding Bob MacAlister was incorrect.

For the record Bob was born in Gourock and not in Glasgow. He was not in the Navy, but had a successful career as Sales Manager with a major UK firm. Subsequently he left to join his wife Valerie, who had established a drawing office equipment and plan printing business. As mentioned in the article, Bob was heavily involved in the Sail Training Association, which gives opportunities to youngsters, and he was Vice Chairman of the Newcastle branch of the Association.

The Lions very much regret these errors and omissions and any distress they caused Valerie MacAlister or her family and friends.